Disney Legend Ming-Na Wen, is a life long die-hard Star Wars fan. When she signed up for The Mandalorian, she knew it was a one-episode appearance and left her for dead but she took it anyway. Fortunately for us and for her, her character not only survived and returned for Season 2 of The Mandalorian, she continues her role into the upcoming The Book of Boba Fett, and now is a reoccurring role in Star Wars: The Bad Batch animated series. We had the opportunity to chat with Ming-Na about her infectious passion for Star Wars, how she got word of her expanded role, Asian representation, her reaction to seeing herself as an action figure and more.
EndorExpress joined other members of the press for this Zoom conversation. Questions and answers have been been edited for clarity.
Q: Did you know all along you would become such a big part of this galaxy when you took the role of Fennec Shand in the first season of The Mandalorian?
MIng-Na: No, as a matter of fact, I had no idea. But, boy am I happy that it happened the way it happened. When Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni offered me this role, I was really, really excited because my entire life has been trying to manifest this moment where I got to participate and be part of a Star Wars project – but when I read the script and she DIES at the end I was just like.. “Aww!” (laughs) That’s kind of sad! So I wasn’t sure, but then you realize, hey, this might be your ONLY opportunity for me to participate so I got to check this off my bucket list. You know of course talking to Jon and Dave, I mean it’s like three people talking the same language because we all love Star Wars so much and are really knowledgeable about it. I took the job, Dave [Filoni] directed and we got to know each other better, and discovered that we both grew up in the same town and went to the same high school (Mt. Lebanon High School)… so, i mean I might have used that as little bit of edge to try to guilt him into keeping Fennec alive, but I’m really hoping that it’s between them loving the character and what I brought to it as well as the fan’s reaction to the character when the episode aired that all this other stuff transpired. But I’m so grateful. So so happy.
Q: Given that Fennec is just starting off as a bounty hunter in The Bad Batch, what details did the creators share with you or what background did you create about Fennec? What motivated her to persue this kind of life?
Ming-Na: It’s kind of difficult for me to talk about that because the stuff that Dave Filoni and the writers and I have discussed about young Fennec Shand would be like and why she became a bounty hunter… we collaborated and threw out a lot of ideas out at each other – so i don’t know what will stick and what won’t. So I’m worried if i reveal something from that conversation and it hasn’t been explored yet or brought to life in the animation in future episodes down the line or in other venues, so I can’t discuss that, I really wish I could!
Q: Is there anything you’re doing voice acting-wise to get into the role of Fennec Shand?
Ming-Na: You know, I’m just foxy in general (laughs). No, it’s interesting because I watched a lot of videos of foxes, especially fennec foxes, there’s a slinkiness to their walk, and they’re loners, and they listen, the fennec foxes have huge ears, so they’re very very alert and aware. Another thing, Fennec can read people, or she thought they could read people. For the voice I wanted to give a little bit of that quality, so there’s more elongated, slinky rhythm that came from the fox. So when she talks there’s a little bit of exaggeration and a stretching of words. And whenever she does speak there’s a pointed reason for it. My natural voice is much higher.
Q: Can you talk about your acting process for live action vs voice work?
Ming-Na: I do a lot of voice acting. Right now i’m doing four or five other animation projects. The one thing that’s difficult is keeping all the characters straight. Sometimes you iterally go in and you’re shooting four-five episodes all at once because they’re only doing your lines. So that’s difficult and different in wanting to bring something to life and you have to do it very very quickly. With live action you have other actors to work off of, you have a set or scenery, you have a director to help you, producers, writers, you have costume, make-up, hair, you know, it’s a full on process. When you do voice acting you can be in your PJs and in fact with The Bad Batch because of Covid, they brought in all this equipment, the computer, they delivered it all, the microphone, everything, they set it up in my home. And the only place that I found to be really good for sound buffering was in my closet because of my clothes. So i did the season of Bad Batch in my closet! Could you imagine you had to bring this character to life with your imagination while surrounded by your clothes! It’s crazy.
Q: Do you play Fennec Shand as the same character in the different shows?
Ming-Na: As actors we have to really draw from ourselves and infuse some of our life experiences and soul to a character to bring them to life. And I know that the 22-year old me is very different from me now. But i’m still that geek nerd girl that every time I get on a new set and I see new toys and the Star Wars characters I geek out and freak out like I would if I were a teenager. So those are the elements that I try to bring into the younger Fennec. Definitely less experience, more ambition, more of a drive to prove who she is and make her mark in the world. So I think her energy and her focus and her tactics might be a little more raw and different. And I give her a slight pitch change but not too much because the difference between her and a seasoned Fennec is in the energy.
Q: Fennec has become this huge character who has now appeared in both live action and animation… is there a different medium you would love to see Fennec show up in?
Ming-Na: Anything. Anything at all. Bring back the Holiday Special! (laughs) I’m excited about any venture into this universe. Of course if I got to participate in a cinematic release of a film in the future, that would pretty much make me pee in my pants. Anything. I’m just excited to see the dolls and the toys that are coming out. I hear one of the Black Series is coming out. I’ve collected Star Wars toys since I was little so this is insane. This is unbelievable.
Q: How do you feel when you see yourself immortalized as a toy?
Ming-Na: It’s fantastic! It’s ridiculous. I think I have to work harder because I’ll be spending so much money. I won’t just buy one. I’m gaga over all of this. Every day I go on set, it takes me a little bit to focus and work and be a professional actor, because i’m having these little moments of nerdgasms where I’m flipping out. And Temuera Morrison, bless him, he’s more even keel, so we’re a good balance for each other. So when we were doing The Book of Boba Fett, he kept me calm.
Q: Unlike most bounty hunters, Fennec Shand seems to care about Omega.. how do you see the dynamic between your character and Omega?
Ming-Na: That’s very interesting, especially with young Fennec… she is good at reading people, manipulating and playing a certain quality to invite herself into that particular character’s trust. So i’m not sure how sincere and genuine her care for Omega is or if she sees her as a bounty and a gig that she had to fulfill. So that’s really interesting. I appreciate that you think there’s this side of her, I like to think there is also. But we’ll see.
Q: What sparked your Star Wars fandom in the first place and how has that evolved?
Ming-Na: I came to the United States when I was younger and had to learn english in third grade and I think for me, science fiction and fantasy was a great form of escapism. I was already a fan of that genre but when Star Wars came out, I had no idea what it was. We didn’t have social media back then, just kinda hear word of mouth that there’s a great movie out and everyone was crazy about it. The experience I felt from the moment the music came on and the scrolling of the story and then the big Imperial Cruiser going over our heads, as a young kid it was just endless, it just went on forever and i just knew i was in for an amazing adventure. And the connection i felt with, especially with Luke Skywalker at the time when he looked at the binary sunset, and I think this might be for all of us, you know that one moment, it’s like 30 seconds of celluloid, but with the music and him staring out there thinking about ‘will I ever fullfill my dreams? Will I ever be who I want to become?’. That was me. I totally understood that being a kid stuck in Pittsburg… not that I was stuck but I felt stuck, wanting and dreaming of being an actor, being Asian and being a woman and knowing the obstacles ahead of me. I think it was just all of that. It became a religious experience, the whole thing. It unites us all. Oh and then when I got on the set of The Mandalorian and that Volume (the digital set used during filming of The Mandalorian) lit up and it was Tatooine with the binary sunset, oh you shoulda seen how much i freaked out. I cried. I literally cried. I was so happy. And then I had the assistant director take a picture of me looking at the binary sunset. It’s crazy.
Q: What does it mean to you to be in such a large property like Star Wars as an Asian American?
Ming-Na: It’s always great. You know it’s kind of funny, Jimmy O. Yang says “Well, you know it’s not by choice that you’re representing. When you’re born looking Asian it’s an automatic thing.” For me I’m just grateful there’s more characters that’s been incorporated. We have green aliens, blue aliens, what was lacking early on were asian characters. And now there’s been so many, in Rogue One, but it’s great. I wrap even Temuera in this expansive Asian blanket. I think it’s wonderful and so thankful that the fans like her. Because as a big Star Wars fan myself, it’s a gift. I’m grateful and I hope this sort of success story will only encourage them to create more Asian characters.
Q: What do you think fans should take away from your character of Fennec in The Bad Batch leading up to The Book of Boba Fett?
Ming-Na: When we would see bounty hunters, most of them were either male or alien, nondescript in that way, or in uniform. I think it’s kind of cool to see sort of this young civilian female bounty hunter who’s able to keep up if not be feared by others and making a mark for herself. I think it’s a great role model in many ways, even if she is an assassin. I love roles like that. She’s sort of an outsider and yet she makes up her own rules, and she believes in herself. She believes in what she’s capable of doing and she’s fearless in pursuing her goals.
The Mandalorian Season 1 and 2; Star Wars: The Bad Batch, streaming exclusively on Disney+.
The Book of Boba Fett, coming later this year exclusively to Disney+.
Thank you to Walt Disney Studios / Disney+ Publicity Team for their help putting this together!